Blythe Dolls: The Valley of the Dolls + Royal/T + Alexander McQueen

Blythe dolls are popping up everywhere. Gina Garan’s book “This is Blythe” came out in in 2000 and nine year later images of Blythe are everywhere.

I took this photo in Tokyo last spring.

img_0563

Target chose Alexander McQueen for their Design Collaborations Series. McQueen chose Blythe to be his model for the ad campaign. Blythe billboards have popped up all over LA.

img_0923

And at bus stops too. (I want that blue dress.)

img_0915

CLICK HERE for the rest of Julie’s post after the jump!

Here in LA, The Valley of the Dolls in West Hollywood is the go to store for Blythe Dolls. Owner Scoot Reyes carries a comprehensive collections of Blythe and Pullip dolls and several other toys lines imported from Japan.

img_4669

With all of this love for this fashion forward doll, I asked Scot Reyes about where Blythe came from, when she was reissued, and why people are so in love with her.

JW: With the new Alexander McQueen campaign for Target and so many dolls and toys being imported from Japan, why do you think Blythe had become so popular?

SR: “This is Blythe”, a photo book by Gina Garan sparked the re-interest in Bythe in 2000. Since her initial debut in 1972, Blythe was always too ahead of her time. The Japanese are always about 7-10 years ahead of us in anything with design. It was inevitable that they would embrace her rather than deny her popularity, as we did with her in the US. Lets face it, Japan leads the way in edgy, kookie design. With her oversized head and big eyes, I can see why she would appeal to that part of the world

JW: Who originally designed Blythe? When was she reissued?

SR: Blythe was created in 1972 by designer Allison Katzman, with the now-defunct U.S. toy company Kenner. Reportedly, she was modeled after drawings by Margaret Keane, similarly to many other dolls of the ’60s and ’70s. Her most distinctive and notable feature were eyes that changed color with the pull of a string attached to the back of her head. Due to a lack of interest, Blythe dolls were only sold for one year in the U.S.

In 1997, New York TV and video producer Gina Garan was given a 1972 Kenner Blythe by a friend and began using it to practice her photographic skills. She began taking her Blythe everywhere with her and took hundreds of photos. In 1999, she was introduced to CWC’s Junko Wong by artist and illustrator, Jeffrey Fulvimari which brought Blythe to the attention of Parco and toy executives. In 2000, Gina published her first book of Blythe photography with Chronicle Books, “This is Blythe”. Later that year, Hasbro, the Trademark and License owner, gave Takara of Japan a license to produce the New Edition of Blythe, NEO Blythe. Blythe was used in a television advertising campaign by the Parco department store in Japan and was an instant hit. Success in Japan led Hasbro to issue a license to Ashton Drake Galleries (ADG) to produce Blythe exclusively in the U.S., where the doll become a niche product selling largely to adults.

In 2003 Blythe was the subject in a segment on the popular VH1 special, I Love the 70s, where she was said to look like either “Barbie with elephantiasis” or “Christina Ricci” among other things. In 2004, the Ashton-Drake Galleries began to produce their own Blythe replica dolls in the United States. A vibrant Blythe subculture flourishes on the Internet, predominantly in forums and user groups. There is a large network of hobbyists who customize the doll for resale, people who create unique clothing and shoes, as well as accessories specifically for Blythe.

JW: What is it about the design of the Blythe dolls that is so appealing to people?

SR: If you look closely at Blythe she has a very mischievous look to her, a smirk in a smile. With her dimpled chin and huge eyes, who would not love her? She does not seem like the kind of doll that would push the other dolls off the shelf. She’s cute, hip, funky and fashionable- so are her collectors.

JW: Who designs the new editions of the dolls?

SR: Takara, a division of Hasbro, has licensing rights to Blythe. I imagine the design team in house does a lot of the designs, but there are many limited editions done by designers such as : Team Sibly, Baby the Stars Shine Bright, Momolita, as well as competitions in which the customers design a Blythe and the winner gets to have their doll made.

JW: This week you are installing a pop-up doll shop at Royal/T a contemporary art gallery in Culver City. Do you feel that Japanese art and design has become part of our pop culture? Is there a “love affair” between Tokyo and LA?

SR: Japan is taking over LA! there are many Japan-o-philes here in Los Angeles. I am just waiting for the next Godzilla movie in which the monster comes up from Santa Monica pier, eats the ferris wheel and goes on to trash the Capital Records building!

Royal/T is an art space, shop, and Japanese cosplay cafe in Culver City. We eat in the cafe often and have attended several events there. The cafe is inspired by the Maid Cafes of Tokyo’s Akihabara district and serves a fusion of French and Japanese food. The waitresses wear these Japanese maid costumes.

img_0648

The giant gallery space features contemporary Japanese art.

img_5640

The shop carries art and pop culture books, frames arts, toys, jewelry and more.

img_5638

This Saturday, The Valley of the Dolls will celebrate the opening of their pop-up doll shop with an Alice in Wonderland themed Mad Tea Party. Many of the women in the LA Lolita community have been busy making special costumes for the event. You can also find more information about Blythe dolls and more at The Valley of the Dolls website and online store.

Now where will Blythe pop up next?

Stratos

I collect fashion dolls, Blythe is not my cup of tea but I can understand the fascination! There is a Greek actor that collects and customises Blythe dolls with incredible results.

Louise

like the blythe target campaign..would love to see a Betsy McCall (remember her?) resurgence..she was adorable

Tiffany Bauer

Great article. I’m so excited to hear about Royal/T in Culver City. I wish I still lived out in LA – I’d be there in a sec!

Blythe dolls inspire creativity in many people (crafting, sewing, photography, drawing and painting) around the world. Blythe Doll Fashion Groups on Flickr – like http://www.flickr.com/groups/blythe_fashion/

Mary-Laure

Fascinating. It made me think of the character of the youngest sister in Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters, who is a doll maker.

Beth Helderman

Love my Blythe dolls! I love the way they look in photos!

One of my very dearest friends is attending the tea party in LA this evening. I can’t wait to hear how it all goes. Wish I could be there with her!

Julie Wolfson

The party was really fun. So many people in costumes. I will post my photos on LAist soon.

Samantha

Very nice article.

After all these years how does Blythe remain so lovely & popular?

While other fashion dolls have disappeared forever, she manages, somehow, to stay relevant and in the moment.

Her fashion style is always up to date and never, never boring.

I, too, wish I can get a hold of some those cute outfits she wears :)

LEAVE A COMMENT